Photo of Nancy UpperNancy Upper grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, without a television. Her family could afford one, but her architect-artist-cartoonist father’s motto was, “Do things for yourself. Don’t watch other people doing things.” Her mother agreed. Upper has put her own twist on life ever since.

As children, she and her older sister invented their own games, their own language, and their own stories. Their parents let them explore the woodsy neighborhood alone, but taught the girls vigilance. The freedom their parents gave them, and their trust in the girls’ common sense, enriched the children’s inventive minds.

Their parents encouraged physical activity as much as creative thinking. Upper and her sister swam, ran, walked, hiked, bicycled, played sports, climbed trees, water skied, ice skated, rode sleds, built snowmen, went fishing, and danced.

Their parents loved the fine arts, and their artistic lifestyle steeped the girls in the visual, performing, and literary arts. They encouraged each child’s creative tendencies — Upper’s toward ballet and theater dance, her sister’s toward art and fashion illustration — and they found teachers to hone each child’s talents.

Physically fit and mentally resourceful, Upper and her sister grew into self-reliant women, confident that they could achieve what they set their sights on achieving.

Decades later, at Brown University, Upper saw a secretary make an ampersand like this:
e-style ampersand
Always striving to be distinctive, the character showed her a way to stand out. She made ampersands like this ever after.

In 1988, Upper’s letter to the regional manager won her a job in the New England office of Adobe Systems Inc. The graphic design in Adobe Illustrator manuals and the ampersands on Adobe Type products spoke to her creative passions. When the company discontinued the job, Upper returned to her first love, ballet, but the ampersands stayed vivid in memory.

The next decades took Upper from volunteering for Boston Ballet, to writing Ballet Dancers in Career Transition: Sixteen Success Stories (McFarland, 2004), to writing for MIT. After leaving MIT, she assisted with PEN New England events, organized the Phi Beta Kappa Boston lecture series, did freelance writing, and helped to start the Boston Athenæum Ambassador program. In 2010, an art project returned her to ampersands. Mighty Ampersand’s chapter one tells this art story.

Suddenly life came together. In the ampersand’s posture, vitality, allure, creativity, and meaning were the dance, energy, spirit, ingenuity, and harmony that had shaped her life.

In 2016, Upper founded Uppersand™ to bring people together worldwide through creative ampersand actions that enhance the quality of life for all. Each person’s take on the twist strengthens our global connections.


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